MONTEREY, Calif. — Bobby Rahal always enjoyed coming to California early to go golfing when he had a race at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca.
The 66-year-old back doesn’t allow him to tee it up anymore, but thanks to last weekend’s IMSA race, the Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing co-owner returned to a special place more than a week ahead of Sunday’s Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey, a double-point NTT IndyCar Series season finale.
“It’s such a beautiful area,” Rahal said Thursday, in between practice sessions. “It’s not a vacation because I was working the whole time, but it’s pretty hard not to feel good when you’ve got the Pacific Ocean right there outside your window and all the beautiful scenery. I don’t think anybody does not like coming out here.”
Graham Rahal, who will be driving the No. 15 United Rentals Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda this weekend, grew up with a profound understanding of his father’s Indy car career. Although Graham has made but a few starts at Laguna Seca, he came here to watch his father race.
"I know dad has a lot of pride when it comes to this one in particular," Graham said.
Put it this way when summarizing Bobby’s 24-win career. There’s a memorable, above-all-else 1986 Indianapolis 500 victory. There’s three PPG Indy Car World Series championships. And there’s Bobby’s unsurpassed track record at Laguna Seca, where he won so much that the backstretch — exiting Turn 6 up the hill and through the Turn 7 kink to the entrance of the famed Corkscrew — on this 11-turn, 2.258-mile permanent road course was renamed the “Rahal Straight” in 2003.
This is where Bobby celebrated what he considers his first big win in the Can-Am Series in 1979.
“Laguna and I hit it off,” he said.
He won an unprecedented four consecutive CART races at Laguna from 1984 to 1987, the last culminating in his second of three titles. His last ride was at this track in 1998, when teammate Bryan Herta drove a Rahal car to victory. Herta did it again in 1999. And Max Papis won for Rahal in 2001.
A Rahal car has also won three BMW sports car races at Laguna Seca. The most recent race on Sunday resulted in a second place in class.
Next Sunday's race will be the first Indy car event at this track since 2004.
“There are some tracks that you really like that you become very successful at,” Bobby said. “There’s tracks you hate and you’re very successful at. There’s tracks that you love where you aren’t successful. There doesn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason to it all.”
He echoed his appreciative words of 16 years ago, when that stretch of track was named after him, that he’s still “very honored” by the Rahal Straight.
“I don’t know if there is any reason why there,” he said. “Nobody’s name is going to be put to the Corkscrew, right? But I find it a real thrill to have part of the circuit named after me.”
Graham, 30, shares his father’s appreciation and would like nothing more than to add to the family legacy. He’s ninth in the points and looking to break a two-year winless streak of 42 races.
“This track has a lot of family history, a lot of team history for us,” Graham said. “The team has always done well here. To be very frank, my racing career here has been pretty short. I think I've ever only done two or three races here. This isn't a track that I have that much experience driving on.
“It's a great track. It's challenging. It's going to be extremely slippery I think as this race goes on. We saw that earlier today. Even the amount of dirt that comes out onto the track is extraordinary, the amount of dirt that gets thrown up.”
For both father and son, it’s good to be back at Laguna Seca.
“It's a great facility,” Graham said. “I'm really excited that IndyCar racing is back in this part of the world, back racing here at Laguna Seca. I know dad and everybody is excited to be here and get going this weekend. It feels good, for sure.”
INDYCAR concludes its 17-race season with the Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey on Sunday. Television coverage will begin on NBC at 2:30 p.m. ET (11:30 a.m. PT local) with the green flag scheduled for 3:15 p.m. (12:15 p.m. local). Live radio broadcasts will be available on the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network and SiriusXM Satellite Radio (XM 205, Sirius 98, Internet/App 970).